De­sign guru Glynn Kerr re­counts his re­cent ex­pe­ri­ence of act­ing as a judge at one of Cal­i­for­nia’s pop­u­lar clas­sic mo­tor­cy­cle show


IF YOU’RE A PETROL-HEAD, one of the great things about Cal­i­for­nia is that there’s a lo­cal bike or car show or­gan­ised vir­tu­ally ev­ery week­end over sum­mer, and usu­ally sev­eral dur­ing the week too. Add to that the slow rate of cor­ro­sion that oc­curs due to the rel­a­tively low hu­mid­ity lev­els, and you have a high num­ber of old ve­hi­cles to be found in run­ning or eas­ily re­stor­able con­di­tion. Sun-bleached plas­tics and typ­i­cally high mileages are a down-side, al­though long, straight roads mean re­duced stress on the mov­ing parts. So those miles don’t count in quite the same way as a ve­hi­cle that’s spent its life in the Swiss Alps or cen­tral London. Lots of old, run­ning ve­hi­cles means lots of in­ter­est, which, in turn, re­sults in an abun­dance of shows.

The an­nual clas­sic mo­tor­cy­cle show held by A&S Pow­er­sports in Ro­seville has a strong fol­low­ing of lo­cal devo­tees. It’s not on a par with the Quail by any means, but it’s not try­ing to be. And that’s ex­actly how ev­ery­one likes it. You’re un­likely to stum­ble across a con­cours-con­di­tion Brough Su­pe­rior or Rol­lie Free’s record-break­ing Vin­cent at the A&S event. You will, how­ever, see an eclec­tic se­lec­tion of older bikes, many of them rid­den reg­u­larly, and as de­voted a group of own­ers as you’ll find any­where. The in­for­mal­ity helps bind the di­ver­sity of in­ter­ests, as does the ran­dom lay­out of the dis­play. A few clumps of sim­i­lar brands or na­tion­al­i­ties sug­gest an early at­tempt at or­der, or own­ers just nat­u­rally mag­ne­tised to their own kind. But at some point, this usu­ally breaks down into an­ar­chy, and new ar­rivals are vaguely in­structed to park “wher­ever you can find a slot”. It’s a gath­er­ing, not a mu­seum, af­ter all.

In past years, I’ve brought along one of my own bikes to dis­play. This year, though, I was asked to judge the en­trants, which im­me­di­ately gave the whole thing a dif­fer­ent slant. At first, I didn’t con­sider my­self ad­e­quately qual­i­fied. There are blokes who can spot a re­pro­duc­tion foot-peg rub­ber at 100

yards. I am not one of them; al­though af­ter decades of own­er­ship, I can prob­a­bly tell a real Guzzi or Ducati part from a fake un­der close scru­tiny. That lim­ited knowl­edge would have qual­i­fied me to judge pre­cisely two out of all the bikes at yes­ter­day’s gath­er­ing, which hardly makes me an or­a­cle of wis­dom. But af­ter as­sur­ances that it was more about per­sonal taste and gut in­stinct than ex­ten­sive ex­per­tise, I ca­pit­u­lated. So yes­ter­day I set off, clip­board in hand, to make a few peo­ple’s day. And of­fend ev­ery­one else.

Af­ter re­view­ing a dozen or so bikes, I no­ticed that my score range was be­tween eight and nine out of 10. That re­vealed both the high qual­ity of the bikes on dis­play, and the re­al­ity that I would have to get far more crit­i­cal to avoid a dead heat among al­most the en­tire amassed group. But how do you com­pare a per­fect multi-year restora­tion with a mostly orig­i­nal time cap­sule? Each has its mer­its. Maybe, more cat­e­gories would help, al­though from my ex­pe­ri­ence of run­ning the Mo­tor­cy­cle De­sign Awards over the years, that can cre­ate as many prob­lems as it solves. For­tu­nately, my task this time was sim­ply to de­cide, not to or­gan­ise, al­though that didn’t help the dilemma. And with only 90 min­utes to sur­vey the field and reach a de­ci­sion, there wasn’t time to dwell on the sit­u­a­tion. Did the bike stop me in my tracks? Yes? Okay, five points. Was it orig­i­nal, well, re­stored, or taste­fully/ imag­i­na­tively mod­i­fied? Okay, an­other two points. Was it a model of sig­nif­i­cance? A fur­ther two points. Did I have a prob­lem drag­ging my­self away from it? The fi­nal de­cid­ing point.

The fact that no en­try scored the full 10/10 was sim­ply down to the logic that one should al­ways re­serve that for a level of faultless per­fec­tion that’s un­likely to ever ma­te­ri­alise (in col­lege, it gives stu­dents, even the best ones, some­thing to strive for). Here, it al­lowed a mar­gin of er­ror, just in case some­one ac­tu­ally did wheel Rol­land Free’s Vin­cent into the arena two min­utes be­fore the judg­ing was due to close. As it was, the high­est scores won their cat­e­gories, with a sec­ond visit to re­view the best de­serv­ing in the case of any match­ing scores. No coins were flipped, al­though heads were duly scratched, and pen­cils nib­bled, dur­ing that sec­ond process.

Start­ing, ap­pro­pri­ately, with the Amer­i­can sec­tion, John Adair’s in­ter­est­ing 1942 H-D Flat Head, and Ingo Pfeif­fer’s ’97 faultless Street Tracker lost out by a hair to Rick Gau­tier’s XLCR. Only 4,000 ex­am­ples of Wil­lie G David­son’s failed at­tempt at a café racer were built, so the rar­ity, in­creas­ing de­sir­abil­ity, and im­mac­u­late con­di­tion of this early 1977 ex­am­ple to­gether got it Best in Class. To­day, no­body cares that it couldn’t com­pete with its Ja­panese and Euro­pean con­tem­po­raries in ei­ther per­for­mance or han­dling in its day. Such is nostal­gia, and the dif­fer­ent ex­pec­ta­tions we have. Now it’s a clas­sic — enough said.

The Bri­tish sec­tion was the most pro­lific, and, in turn, the most dif­fi­cult to judge. Out of four Nor­ton Com­man­dos, two hit the 9/10 mark, while Richard Hard­meyer’s ’49 Tri­umph PR5 matched them out of age, con­di­tion and sheer charm. While Dan Perry’s gor­geous sil­ver 850 Com­mando was ac­knowl­edged as the bike I would most like to take home, Chuck Tal­ley’s 750 won the award over­all. The Tri­umph didn’t go home with­out a medal, though — that one won Best of Show. Could a bike log­i­cally win Best of Show when it hadn’t won its own cat­e­gory? I left that para­dox for oth­ers to fig­ure out.

This year saw a cou­ple of ad­di­tions to the clas­sic show, with Café Racer and Cus­tom cat­e­gories bring­ing newer, mod­i­fied bikes into the arena. Turnout was some­what un­der-whelm­ing, but, hope­fully, the word will get out, and en­tries will mul­ti­ply over the com­ing years. Fer­nando Cruz won the for­mer, with his mod­i­fied Yamaha XS750, while

Dean Court’s home­spun bi­cy­cle-based In­dian board-tracker replica per­fectly cap­tured the spirit of those ear­lier ma­chines. Af­ter the show, it was yours for $2,000 (Rs 1.33 lakh) or best of­fer.

BMWs had a mo­nop­oly on the Ger­man group, with three dif­fer­ent con­tenders all ty­ing for top place. But when I re­turned for the sec­ond round of judg­ing, two of them had al­ready dis­ap­peared, which re­solved the whole is­sue. Jim Low­ery’s lovely 1955 R25/3 would prob­a­bly have won it in any case.

Early Ja­panese mod­els have a grow­ing fol­low­ing, and there was a good turnout to sup­port it. Chalmer DeChecco brought along his stun­ning 1961 CB92, which drew in the points league with Michael Lee’s 1970 Yamaha DS6B. It was a hard call, but the Yamaha won by a hair on orig­i­nal­ity (be­lieve it or not, this is an un­re­stored ex­am­ple) and nov­elty. Hon­das on dis­play ranged from a Z50 Mon­key Bike to a six-cylin­der CBX from 1979. Chalmer did win the Ital­ian sec­tion, though, with his 1956 Gil­era 150.

The ‘Other’ cat­e­gory (I guess it could have been the ‘None of the Above’ group) had just one con­tender, which seemed to me like a rigged elec­tion. I was tempted to ab­stain just out of spite, but Blair Beck’s Penton 125 Six Days was faultless and im­pres­sive, so it was a de­served vic­tory.

And, fi­nally, there was the scooter sec­tion. Bruce Cut­ting’s 1957 Cush­man Ea­gle was unashamedly orig­i­nal, which was duly ap­pre­ci­ated, but Kent Per­ry­man’s re­stored Vespa stole ev­ery­one’s heart. The paint wasn’t true to Vespa, but it suited the lit­tle wasp per­fectly, and the de­ci­sion in this cat­e­gory was a no-brainer.

Af­ter the of­fi­cial hand­ing out of the awards, it was time to go off in search of a cold beer. The sum­mer heat, along with a fine haze, care of the wildfires burn­ing fur­ther south, had been op­pres­sive — fur­ther as­pects of the Cal­i­for­nia life­style that has to be bal­anced with all the good bits. Only one owner de­manded to know my rea­son­ing for why his bike hadn’t won, and that was more out of want­ing to im­prove his chances for fu­ture shows rather than seek­ing any form of vengeance. It was a good crowd, and a worth­while re­minder of why we do this crazy thing called mo­tor­cy­cling.

Dean Court with his hand-made, In­dian-themed de­vice — head to head with one of In­dian’s more re­cent of­fer­ings

Richard Hard­meyer won Best of Show with his 1949 Tri­umph PR5

Alone in his class, Blair Beck de­served to win any­way with his im­mac­u­late Penton Six Days

Rick Gau­tier with his win­ning 1977 XLCR Café Racer

BMWs turned out in force for the Ger­man con­tin­gent

The an­nual A&S show is a fam­ily event

In­ter­est­ing FT500-based flat-tracker, fi­nally demon­strat­ing what the ‘FT’ was sup­posed to stand for

Chalmer DeChecco’s de­light­ful 1961 Honda CB92 125-cc twin

Ducati staged a ma­jor XDi­avel test-ride dur­ing the morn­ing

Rick Gau­tier’s win­ning 1977 XLCR Café Racer

When did you ever see a cast si­lencer?

You’d be hard pressed to find a more eclec­tic mix of bikes

Scru­ti­n­is­ing is a se­ri­ous af­fair

Michael Lee was very happy to win the Ja­panese cat­e­gory with his un­re­stored Yamaha DS6B

Fer­nando Cruz with his in­ter­est­ing take on a 1978 Yamaha XS750

An­other bike I could have hap­pily taken home, 1956 Gil­era 150, with proud owner Chalmer DeChecco

Chuck Tal­ley won the Bri­tish group with his taste­fully mod­i­fied 750 Com­mando

Jim Low­ery with his tidy 1955 BMW R25/3

More charm than Mau­rice Che­va­lier — lovely re­stored 1963 Vespa. Kent Per­ry­man (l) and his Vespa

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